Adaptogens! Ashwagandha! Buzz words!
But, truthfully, they can work for you if you are looking to de-stress a bit. Before writing this post, I had the opportunity to try ashwagandha for 60 days while I was researching and writing this post, because I wanted to experience the benefits of less stress first-hand. Also I had NO idea that there is a ton of BS ashwagandha on the market. NO IDEA.
So what is all the recent buzz around these so called ‘adaptogens’? An adaptogen meaning that, when consumed, can ‘adapt’ and adjust to individual bodies differently to combat different types of stress that are put on the body. They vary in their level or type of support – they can calm or stimulate the central nervous system or do both simultaneously. They can have an amazing effect on focus, stress and in general – the quality of mental work we get done.
Some examples of adaptogens include:
Ashwagandha – a soothing nervine (not stimulating usually), and great for anxiety, stress, insomnia and fatigue
Eleuthero – a support for those working in extremely stressful jobs, long hours or crazy schedules
Rhodiola – increases mental stamina and sleep quality, used in Russia as an antidepressant
Tulsi (Holy Basil tea) – good for mental fog and positive mood
Schisandra (berry) – calming, generally, but can also be stimulating – can help to soothe anxiety and provide mental focus
Let’s talk about ashwagandha! This particular adaptogen has gotten lots of attention recently, mainly for its effect on stress and anxiety. Ashwagandha is an herb that originated in india and has been used for centuries. According to University Health News a recent study examined 64 adults in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Researchers gave half the participants a placebo and half 300 mg of ashwagandha extract twice a day for 60 days. All of the adults had a history of chronic stress. The results were posted in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine and stated that the individuals who were administered the 300 mg had cortisol levels 28% lower than those in the placebo group. Not only did their cortisol levels drop (the stress hormone), but the participants who took the adaptogen also scored 72% lower on a General Health Questionnaire and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale. (These two tests are administered to evaluate stress, anxiety and overall well-being, the lower the score the less stressed out you are.)
The participants also experienced significant reductions in depression, anxiety, social dysfunction, physical symptoms, and insomnia.
I also want to mention that with any adaptogen, it’s important to consume it for at least 60 days before making a judgment call on how it worked for you. These herbs take time to do their magic!
Despite all of the benefits, we need to be smart when choosing an ashwagandha product in order to properly reap the rewards. Not all are created equal, so here are some things to look for when choosing your ashwagandha!
Withanolides – this is one of the root’s active ingredients and we want to be looking on the ingredient list and checking the levels. Look for ashwagandha root powder extracts that contain at least 5% to 8% withanolides.
Withaferin A – it is important to know that not all withanolides are created equal. Withaferin A is a withanolide that is cytotoxic (toxic to living cells), and we don’t want to have it in high concentrations in our ashwagandha extract. This component can be extremely dangerous at high levels and is usually a result of the manufacturer using the ashwagandha leaves rather than just the roots.
Extraction – (water vs. chemicals) – some ashwagandha products products extract the herb with water and some are extracted with chemicals. Of course, we want to consume the type that is extracted with water!
Roots vs. Leaves – Some manufacturers use the roots and the leaves of the herb and some use the root only. We want to look for ashwagandha that uses the root only method. By choosing products that use this method we are at less of a risk of consuming high levels of Withaferin A, (the cytotoxic withanolide that can be dangerous at high levels as mentioned above).
Black Pepper – Pepper aids in the bioavailability of the ashwagandha, which means it is better absorbed within and used by the body when it is consumed with pepper.
Bottom line: We want to look for an ashwagandha supplement that contains active ingredients, in a clean way. In this case we are looking for withanolides, saponins and alkaloids. These are the ingredients that are coming from the root and how we are going to get the most benefits. When looking at the withanolide concentration we are looking for a supplement with the highest percentage (currently we want to look for a concentration of 5-8%). The standard recommended amount of ashwagandha is 300mg twice a day for at least 2 months.
I also want to leave you with a killer “coffee replacement” using ashwaganda (the herb, not the capsule) -or- you can add this to your coffee if you want a little of both. If you add this to your coffee, don’t add the water. Let me know what you think!
1 teaspoon cacao
1/4 teaspoon maca
1/4 teaspoon ashwagandha
1/4 reishi mushroom
1/4 teaspoon cordyceps
blend with 1 cup hot water
add maple syrup to sweeten and sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon tocos on top